Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Famous Last Words

"Captain, I cannae hold her" - sound familiar ? For all those Trekkie fans out there, I have some news : we, the French patent attorneys of this world, are going "where no man has gone before" (I'm not going to be politically correct for the sake of a quotation).

Yes, indeed. Such could be the conclusion one could have drawn from the meeting I attended on Tuesday afternoon organised by the National Guild of (French) Patent Attorneys. The trouble is, I don't really know where to start. I suppose it didn't help my understanding of the situation by my turning up late, but when one lives and works in the back of beyond like I do, getting to the meeting place on time was not necessarily an easy thing to organise. Unfortunately, and this is one of my pet gripes, the CNCPI is resolutely a centralised organisation with 99.9999% of its meetings taking place in central Paris and not necessarily near to an airport or a main railway station.

OK, so I turned up 10 minutes late. The meeting had already started, but fortunately not yet question time. Lucky me. I took a pew, strategically placed near to an exit, since I knew I would have to leave for a conference I was giving the other side of Paris later on the afternoon. And the floor was opened up to questions - I'll spare my non existent readership the pain of having to trawl through these questions and get to the point. What was all this about ?

Basically, the meeting was supposed to be informative. Unfortunately, I learned very little that I did not already know, surmise or suspect. Perhaps, had I stayed longer, I would indeed have learned something useful. The information was supposed to be about virtually anything related to the ongoing "negotiations" between the Guild and the Bar Association of France, by whom we are about to be devoured. During my time of attendance, the questions focused on the training requirements that would be necessary for any youngster or neophyte wishing to enter the profession and become a Avocat "spécialisé en propriété intellectuelle" (what is it with the French and pompous names, eh ?)

The upshot of most of what was said is that our Guild is basically in a "bend over, this might hurt a little" situation. In other words, there is no room for negotiation with the French Bar Association. This was more or less confirmed by the President of the Guild.

The French also seem to have got it into their heads that there is no European mutual recognition for IP Attorneys - while this may be true on paper, there is no European Union universal IP Attorney title, yet mutual recognition of titles exists, whether one likes it or not. Of course, one can not yet simply set up business as a barrister or other legal service representative in the EU if one doesn't have at least some form of recognition in one's own country, but recognition can and does happen on a EU level. Just because France has been fined on several occasions for its own protectionism in this regard, is by the by, but deliberately creating an internal system of training and qualification, as it looks like we are going to have, and which will make things significantly harder for new young entrants to the profession is not IMHO going to help our ailing and aging professional population.

OK, I hear you say, "what reasons are given for this elevation of professional status ?" Well, the ones I heard were a little hard to understand, and I'm in favour of the whole thing. I hate to think what the opponents of the movement must think - as the French say, "we're walking on our heads !!!"

- we're a test case for certain factions of the Bar Association that wish to see things change and introduce a specialisation for all barristers ; these factions are naturally interested in being able to manipulate the discussions the Guild is having to push the Bar Association towards "modernisation";

- everyone will look up to us as and recognise us as superior beings because we have such a long list of professional qualifications - errrmm, beg your pardon ??? I'm sorry, but my cynical side takes over here, and I have to admit having guffawed at the pomposity of replies such as these; the Guild continues in its longstanding tradition of inflating the image of our profession to over and beyond what it really is, but hey, I can puff up my chest too :-)

- the scaremongering approach : the spectre of deregulation looms and therefore we must run and shelter under the wings of Mother Hen aka the French Bar Association, but we can only do that if we give in to everything they ask of us. Hmmm, well, by the sounds of it, deregulation is coming, whether we like or not, and the barrister profession won't be spared - perhaps, with a bit of luck, we'll gain a few years more out of it before it finally hits us all - we'll just have to see at that time whether there is indeed "safety in numbers", but I doubt it.

So that's it. Not particularly brilliant. Then again, I'm probably far too cynical, too pessimistic, to be able to fully appreciate the context and developments that are overtaking the profession. Yet despite all of this, I remain in favour of the merger, mainly for purely personal reasons, but I don't think that the current developments will favour entry into the French profession of engineers or scientists with the current or even projected scheme of training available in France.

As an employer, I might be inclined to look into having my juniors train and qualify outside of France, and then take the European Union recognition or French 8 year experience route, or even just take on qualified non-French staff if they speak French. It doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be any worse or better than their "newly qualified" French counterparts.

Stay tuned for another nail-biting episode : "Beam me up, Scottie"

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